Kristen Stewart in Camp X-Ray
First-time filmmaker Peter Sattler got the inspiration for Camp X-Ray, a gritty drama about soldiers watching over suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, after he watched documentary footage of a guard and a detainee discussing the books on a library cart.
“It was the most surreal, absurd interchange I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sattler told the audience at the film’s Sundance Film Festival premiere last January. “I saw this vision of a two-hander, one room-type of movie where these two characters just talk. I wondered what they’d talk about. To me, it was a cool way to address Guantanamo Bay indirectly.”
The writer/director said he didn’t want to make a propaganda movie. Yet Camp X-Ray is often sympathetic to the plight of the prisoners, specifically Ali, an innocent detainee, played by Peyman Moaadi, in the film’s strongest performance. Ali is watched over by a female guard named Amy (Kristen Stewart), who begins to question the abusive treatment of detainees at the camp. After some Hannibal Lecter-Clarice Starling-style banter, the two form an unlikely friendship over, you guessed it, the selection of reading material at the controversial U.S. prison camp.
Moaadi, a gifted, charismatic actor known to movie audiences for his searing work in 2011’s A Separation, discussed the preparation he underwent to play Ali, saying he spent many hours alone in his prison cell. “They only let me out to come here today,” he joked.
Stewart’s pouty sullenness has often characterized previous performances, but it serves her well here. The actress, also on hand for the Q&A, told the audience it was important for her to figure out exactly who her sometimes inscrutable character was so she spent hours watching numerous documentaries about the subject matter, which depicted “both sides of the coin.” Stewart revealed that she also trained for several days with a “really awesome Marine named JB who…whipped me into shape.”
Stewart effectively de-glammed herself to play Amy and Sattler added that just getting Stewart into the uniform resulted in a huge transformation in his star. Sattler said he initially intended for Stewart’s character to be male, but he changed to a female protagonist to create more conflict between the two main characters.